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BRAIN RESEARCH How to use it to improve your school now. P. 40

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OPENING DAY typical software-savvy kids. “Computer science and software engineering are usually male dominated and there are not as many minorities,” he says. “We want to give females and minorities a view of what the industry looks like.” Consequently, the school will make every effort to accommodate students who may not already be computer geniuses. “We’re going to have kids who’ve never programmed, who don’t really know what it’s about,” Yu says. “So we want to make sure they get an idea of various principles of computer science, such as computational thinking, prob-

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want to instigate ‘ We creative juices and provide a forum to explore technology. ’ —Seung Yu, Academy for Software Engineering

lem solving, and conceptual thinking.” That approach will extend beyond the classroom walls: “Ideally, we want to make sure that every student has an internship, as opposed to a certain set of students who tend to be the most skilled.” Finding worthwhile internships will

GLOBAL ONLINE ACADEMY

, media studies class at the Global Online Academy to choose an image from 9/11 and write about it generated vastly different responses. One student in the class, who attends Sidwell Friends, in Washington, D.C., wrote that he still vividly remembers the events of that day, even though they happened when he was 6 or 7. Another student, at King’s

Academy in Jordan, wrote about being a Muslim and reflected on the importance of sacred towers in her culture. It was the kind of exchange that characterizes the mission of the yearold academy, which includes teachers and students from a group of 23 independent schools around the country and abroad, including the Dalton School in New York City, Cranbrook Schools in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan,

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likely be made easier by the tech heavyweights on the school’s board and by Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s efforts to invest in the city’s high-tech sector. If New York is to continue to attract startups and entrepreneurial companies, says Yu, the city has to ensure it has a steady supply of software engineers to fill its needs now and in the years to come. So far, so good. “We had over 800 students put us down on their application,” Yu says. “Unfortunately, we can’t accept all 800, but at least we know we’re going to have students who are interested in our school.”

and the International School of Beijing. The academy offers virtual courses on a range of subjects that compel students to share local and personal perspectives on global issues. As students gain a broader perspective from one another, they’re also learning crucial online skills, says Michael Nachbar, the academy’s director. “How do you communicate via e-mail with somebody who is from a very different cultural background from you?” Nachbar asks. “If you’re collaborating on a project with somebody who is 10 time zones away, how do you coordinate that? How do you hold yourself and your classmates accountable in an online environment that is hugely creative and flexible and retains the information in perpetuity? These are all things students need to learn how to do.” The idea for the Global Online Academy began to germinate in the spring of 2010 when administrators at the Lakeside School in Seattle started talking about the need for a new kind of online teaching. “There were some administrators at Lakeside who heard Michael Horn, one of the authors of Disrupting Class, talk about how online learning was affecting our schools, our universities, and what the students were doing, how they were learning,” says Nachbar, who was assistant director of Lakeside’s middle school at the time. The administrators realized that independent schools hadn’t been taking part. “It presented a tremendous opportunity for our students to connect.” They also felt they were in a position to make a contribution to the world of online teaching. “There are a lot of forprofit companies and there are a lot of colleges and universities offering online 37


OPENING DAY courses, but nobody was doing online classes the way that we thought they should,” Nachbar says. “Small class sizes, teachers knowing every single learner in the class, students learning from and with each other, project-based and inquiry-based learning—we felt those types of things were missing.” So the Lakeside group invited administrators from 15 schools around the country to Seattle for an exploratory meeting. Ten signed on to become part of the initial consortium, and the academy began offering classes last September to a total of 113 students. As of this past May, the academy has grown to 23

see the ‘ Students value of a global

classroom, which is fascinating.’ —Michael Nachbar, Global Online Academy

schools and more than 200 students. It serves as the “hub of the wheel,” training teachers from the member schools, providing technical support and knowhow, and allying the schools through Listservs and other connections. Projects encouraged students to

connect with one another and their own communities. Interacting with kids from other schools rated highly on student surveys the first year. “They see the value of a global classroom, which is fascinating,” says Nachbar. “I hadn’t anticipated they would be so tuned in to that.” For example, that Sidwell student from Washington, D.C.: “I asked him if there was a moment in the semester that really resonated with him, something about this course that he never could have gotten anywhere else,” Nachbar says. Immediately, the student recalled the 9/11 interaction. “It was a moment of understanding and sharing.”

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2010–11 w s dis ppointing one for Scott High School in northern Kentucky. The special freshman academy performed dismally, returning a 24 percent failure rate, and surveys showed that students “didn’t like us very well,” says principal Brennon Sapp, who was then a district official. So Sapp and 14 of the school’s “best teachers” met to decide what to do about it. One thing they were clear on: The student body was unusually creative. Students regularly took home state Cappie awards for artistic activities, a majority identified themselves as being interested in the arts, and creative kids numbered among the school’s top performers as well as its athletes. To Sapp, this all sounded strangely familiar. He’d just finished reading Daniel Pink’s A Whole New Mind, which announces that “the future belongs to a very different kind of person, with a very different kind of mind—creators and empathizers, pattern recognizers and meaning makers. These people—artists, inventors, designers, storytellers, caregivers, consolers, big-picture thinkers— will now reap society’s richest rewards and share its greatest joys.” So, as Sapp tells it, the group paused for everyone to read the book, and they all agreed that Pink was on to something; they then set about creating a special learning community for the school’s right-brain thinkers. “We decided to hit all their strengths and quit worrying so much about their weaknesses,” Sapp says. They decided to call it Renaissance Academy. Sapp set his teachers loose to experiment. The Spanish teacher, for example, 38

RIGHT-BRAIN HIGH SCHOOL used Rosetta Stone software to build a new approach to teaching language. Because the software doesn’t address culture or written grammar, says Sapp, the teacher supplemented it with performance-based work. As part of the experiment, some of her students learned Japanese, Greek, or Spanish using the method. Similarly, Renaissance Academy’s

teachers are developing a multiyear course that will mix social studies content with connected text and writing assignments so students learn both subjects “without even knowing which one they’re learning at any given time,” Sapp says. The course, spread over two years, will be worth three years of credit. The changes will be evident in the (Continued on page 63)

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